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Partnerships

19 May

Lessons from Firewood Amidst In-Housing Acceleration

WRITTEN BY MediaMonks

Digital transformation isn’t the only process that has accelerated in recent months: so has in-housing. Gradually becoming more popular over the past few years, the trend has suddenly become table stakes for some brands amidst production challenges.

“Whatever creative that you need to develop has come, in a great part, from in-house capabilities,” ANA CEO Bob Liodice told Campaign in an interview about marketing challenges during the pandemic. “So, I think it’s actually been a boom to be able to lean on that infrastructure that has, in many cases, developed quite significantly over the course of time.”

That’s great for brands that have built up in-house capabilities over the past few years—but for those that have relied heavily on external agency partners until now, how can they adapt to continue serving their audiences? “In-house teams will do more of the work that companies would have previously sent to agencies, but that doesn’t mean the internal agency is ready themselves,” says Warren Chase, COO of Firewood, which merged with MediaMonks last year.

The true measure of who will not only survive but thrive in the coming months are brands that are prepared to digitally transform, he says. Simply seeking short-term gains that don’t provide longstanding value won’t cut it. “You have to adapt to the mindset of how to become productive when you can’t have your creative team around you,” says Chase. “But people will adapt—they’ve been forced to catch up.”

Strategic Alignment is Key to Long-Term Success

As many brands embark on their in-housing journey for the first time—or seek to adapt new skillsets and ways of working within an existing in-house team—collaboration and alignment is critical to long-term success. “It’s not just about the marketing department,” says Marco Iannucci, Senior Director of Strategy at Firewood. “What is the CMO’s relationship with the CTO, CIO, CSO and the rest of the C-suite? More than ever, the CMO must be a true partner with the rest of them—and if not, everything fails.”

“You must adapt to the mindset of how to become productive when you can’t have your creative team around you.”

Warren Chase

COO, Firewood

This heightened need to align marketing’s efforts throughout the organization reflects the nature of marketing today. “Intertwining of marketing and technology is inevitable,” writes Thomas Husson, Forrester VP and Principal Analyst, in a recent report. “As the designer and orchestrator of personalized customer experiences, the CMO must increasingly leverage big data, real-time analytics, and a host of technology platforms.”

This means strategic success relies on solving the CMO-CIO paradox, ensuring that tooling and workflows enable collaboration throughout the organization. Iannucci notes that dashboards and new tools have made it easier than ever for teams to take specific capabilities in house, but “everyone loves their specific tools, and whenever something isn’t working, they say, ‘If we only had these tools, I could do my thing.’ But then you end up with tools that aren’t syncing up or talking to one another, making it hard to see things big-picture.”

Prioritize, But Be Open to Shifting Gears

In establishing an in-housing strategy, brands must be committed for the long term. Chase balks at the idea that things will ever go back to normal as we knew it. “We have to create the next normal, and that requires feeling comfortable with being uncomfortable, and recognizing all the opportunities to do things differently right now.”

He notes that this idea of adapting to discomfort or inconvenience is something that external agencies are already used to managing, though in-housing brands can achieve stability by ensuring their priorities are clear and in order. Consider the primary motivators that drive the in-housing trend: cost savings, faster speed to market and consistency over the brand narrative. Brands must carefully prioritize which is most important to them and instill a sense of purpose in the existence of their in-house team.

“We have to create the next normal, recognizing all the opportunities to do things differently right now.”

Warren Chase

COO, Firewood

While that might look different for everyone, Chase advises that enabling faster speed to market should be a top concern for most brands, as it puts a strategy in place to quickly come up with solutions to new, unprecedented challenges. As shifts in the digital and economic landscape continue to reverberate, brands must be ready to act. “When you have clarity on your priorities and need to put one in front of the other, right now it’s time to act quicker, adjust and pivot, and that’s where being in-house gives you an upper hand.”

Embrace the People Factor

Acquiring and energizing creative talent has historically been a challenge for in-house agencies—a challenge that may feel compounded when the need for new skillsets emerge and budgets tighten. This presents a new challenge to in-house teams: how do you keep teams inspired and build space for innovation?

“Bring in the people that know how to do this well, that have gone through this and can speak that language,” says Chase. “We all know we have to accelerate, but the big question is: how? Bring in the folks that are comfortable with that ambiguity.”

In discussing the embedded team model that Firewood is known for, Chase notes, “Across the board our culture is fundamental in making things work. We are zooming along again because our focus is on, ‘How can I help you do better for our client?’ And that attitude really spills over beyond our internal team and permeates into our client culture as well.” Despite the talk of upskilling tech, strategic alignment and agility, don’t overlook instilling a purpose-driven creative culture—a critical factor in long-term in-house success.

From new ways of working come new ways to engage.

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